The Daily Heller: Introducing the Image Alchemist

Posted inThe Daily Heller

At its most basic, life is comprised of an infinite number of patterns. How we choose to see them—or if we see them at all—is based on personal vision. The visionary sees what the average viewer may not, but we are all capable of deciphering visual relationships that are collectively existential.

Stephen Ellcock, a London-based online collector and researcher/curator who refers to himself as the Image Alchemist, has spent the past decade populating (as the digitalists say) an ever-growing virtual museum of forms from atomic to celestial, from microscopic to monumental, with plenty of surprising and phenomenal treasures in between. He draws from a limitless cosmos of images, and his new book, poetically titled The Cosmic Dance: Finding Patterns and Pathways in a Chaotic Universe (Thames & Hudson), is a inspirational tour de force of physical and metaphysical wonders, best summarized by the book’s kick-off quotation: “By looking down, I see upward. By Looking up, I see downward” (Tycho Brahe, 1574).

A veritable wunderkammen, this handsomely designed physical volume, classically executed by Daniel Streat of Visual Fields, brings the vastness of Ellcock’s curated, mind-expanding universe down to earth. At the same time it is a tour of an infinite variety of explained and incomprehensible phenomena from natural order and human endeavors.

Don’t be fooled, though—this is not another sampling of eye candy or a show-and-tell of novel design relics that blitz social media platforms these days. Although filled with plenty of marvelous visions (and collected openly online), these are mostly random discoveries, ancient and recent and even timeless, decorative and reflective of individual genius (and madness), that as Ellock writes “is the culmination of a decade-long attempt … to come to terms with disorder … and to reengage with a world in which connections count.” I guarantee that although this book is more navigational, accessible and readable in its compressed form than Ellcock’s richly packed Instagram feed, he has indeed come close to making sense of our collective chaos through his kind of spiritual insight.

Just read the title of his chapters, each a wonder cabinet of curiosities on its own: “The Infinitesimal Universe,” “God in Minature,” “Divine Proportions,” “In Search of Nirvana” and “And So On to Infinity.”

You will have to get the book to learn the details of Ellock’s varied cosmologies, but if the pictures do not alter your senses, the writing will. The book is beautifully penned, designed and essential for the wanna-be visionary—or put another way, The Cosmic Dance is the safest acid trip you’ll ever take.

Bacterial Citis, petri dishes by physicist and biologist Eshel Ben-Jacob, 2013
Bacterial Citis, petri dishes by physicist and biologist Eshel Ben-Jacob, 2013
Bacterial Citis, petri dishes by physicist and biologist Eshel Ben-Jacob, 2013

The Creation of the Heavens, Flemish, c. 1475. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig XIII 5, v1, fol. 31

Mundus subterraneous, Athanasius Kircher, 1665. Courtesy Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.,

Mandelbrot set, initial image of zoom sequence, Wolfgang Beyer with the program Ultra Fractal 3, 2013. Courtesy Wolfgang Beyer
Comet with Sword from Das Wunderzeichenbuch (The Book of Miracles), 1552. The Book of Miracles
Illustration of Zodiac Man from Codex Schürstab, Nuremberg, Germany, c. 1472. Zentralbibliothek Zürich